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Cheap Aquarium Plant Seeds Test Day 1

I’ve decided to evaluate the usefulness of aquarium plant seeds imported from overseas.  These can be had inexpensively, so I think they may be a good addition to the store.


I tried some before and they actually did germinate and turn into plants, but they floated to the top of the water and were eventually floated away.  Not great ground cover.IMG_0020

This time around, I had an epiphany.  Why not use gelatin pill capsules to keep the seeds under the substrate until they get properly waterlogged.  I happened to have a bunch of these capsules left over from my old DIY root tab project, so why not?

The process is very straight forward, the capsules easily pull apart.  Just load some seeds in on half then push the other half back on and you’re good to go.  The seeds are very small and pretty dense, so it’s not necessary to overfill the capsule.


Fill up a few of these, enough to plant these a few inches apart in the area in which you want carpeting plants in your aquarium.


Now the waiting begins.  Just like any other seeds, it will take a few days to a week or so for the seeds to germinate.  I’ll post updates as there are things to take pictures of, stay tuned.

Click here for Day 2

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Use Inexpensive Equipment for Automatic Aquarium Dosing

If you regularly add anything to your aquarium like fertilizer for planted tanks, you know what a pain doing it every day can be. There are sweet precision dosing pumps available online, but they are expensive. There is a cheap pump out there called the Aqualifter.  It’s less than 20 bucks, but the problem is it’s not metered, it just continues to pump about 3.5 gallons per hour. But, with a few additions, you can set up one of these pumps to dispense much smaller amounts of liquid for a shorter time.

DIY aquarium dosing pump setup

Here’s a list of what you’ll need (there’s a link to Amazon at the end of the article too).

  • Scissors
  • Small measuring cup to measure the dose you’ll need
  • Aqualifter pump
  • Airline tubing
  • Air control valve
  • Digital timer
  • Bottle or other container
  • Air pump (optional)
  • Extension cord or outlet splitter (optional)

The basic setup is pretty simple.  You just connect the inlet port from the Aqualifter to the bottle with air hose.  Run tubing from the output port to the top of your aquarium and connect the valve.  You can add additional tubing after the valve if desired. 02021401 I recommend you do not put the tube in the aquarium water.  When the power is cut off, tank water might siphon back into your dosing system and make a big mess.  If you need to do it that way, add a check valve to your setup.

DIY Dosing Pump Calibration

IMG_8497Once you have everything where it’s going to go, it’s time to test and make adjustments.  Close the air valve and then plug in the pump.  Slowly open the air valve until your liquid starts dripping out.  I used water during the calibration. Make sure there is additional space in the bottle for air to enter.  If it’s perfectly sealed, it will create a vacuum and nothing will flow. Adjust the outflow until the setup dispenses the amount of liquid you want in the time span of 1 minute. Once you got it dialed in, put the pump on the timer and set the timer to come on one minute per day at the desired time. IMG_8499Now your dosing will happen automatically.  Pretty sweet. One note, when you do the calibration step, it’s important to do it with everything in the place it will be permanently.  If you test outside the tank and then move it, the difference in height or tube length might alter the liquid flow.

Add a mixing pump to dosing setup

Ok, I have to admit, this isn’t new ground, I found these tips online in plenty of forums.  My addition is the optional steps I’m going to share now. IMG_8498I use dry fertilizer mixed with distilled water.  As a result, things tend to settle.  Since I probably won’t shake the bottle regularly, I need something to occasionally stir up the solution. That’s where the air pump comes in.  All I did was plug an air pump into the same timer as the lift pump using an extension cord.  Then I ran the tube into the bottle. Now, when the timer kicks on, so does the air pump.  Since it’s just a tube in there, it generates huge bubbles which stir up the liquid just fine. To be honest it kind of sounds like the engine from a 1978 Buick when it’s running, but it sure gets the job done. I pretty much had the gear laying around already, so for just the cost of the Aqualifter I got a nifty setup that did the same thing for me that a much more expensive metered pump does. You wanna do this project yourself?  Hit the link below for an Amazon list of all the stuff you’ll need.  (I get a small commission for anything you might buy) Equipment List for Project

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Hands On: DIY CO2 Generator

co2 generator

Just in case you’re wondering, I frequently partake in the deals I post on this site.  I picked up the Aquarium DIY CO2 Generator from BangGood a while back.  The interesting thing about this setup is that it uses citric acid and baking soda in two bottles to generate CO2 for the aquarium.

co2-generatorNow that I’ve had some time to play with this toy, I thought I’d share my impressions and maybe add some more information on using this method for CO2 generation since there’s not a ton of information out there about using citric acid and baking soda instead of  yeast to create a CO2 reaction.

This setup adds a pressure gauge, plus an emergency release valve along with a needle valve to control the output of CO2 from the generator.  You bring your own two liter soda bottles plus additives to complete the thing.  Consider it semi-DIY if you prefer.

The basic idea is that you put citric acid (more on this later) with water in one bottle and baking soda and water in another.  Squeeze the bottle to begin siphoning citric acid water into the baking soda bottle and a reaction begins to produce CO2 gas which is then sent through the needle valve and out to your planted aquarium.

There are a couple of different versions of the product.  The one I’ve been using and is pictured in this review is the D-501 model.  This model has a rigid bridge between the two bottles that makes everything an easily-contained single unit.  There’s also a model 301 that features the same gauges but attaches via individual specialized bottle caps and might offer some more flexibility for placement in the bottles.

A D-201 model also exists, but it seems like the components are much more cheaply made than those in the other two.  There’s only a couple bucks difference between that one and the 301 and 501, so I’d just skip the 201.

Did I mention all of these units are under 20 bucks each?  That would explain what it’s doing on this blog.


I sprung for the extra 3 dollars to ship my CO2 generator express. That option got me my product within 3 days via DHL.  Well worth the price since normal free shipping takes up to 3 weeks.

co2-generator-chinese-directionsSadly, the pressure gauge broke off my unit shortly after getting it.  Customer service had me e-mail them a picture of the broken piece and then happily sent me a replacement. No complaints there.

Once I got a working unit in hand, it was time to begin the great experiment.  The instructions that ship with this product are in Chinese, so that’s not exactly helpful.  Fortunately, the product description on BangGood’s site has an English translation.

Even more helpful is this article you’re reading right now where I can explain everything in plain English.

To begin  you’ll need two 2-liter soda bottles.  Use soda bottles, not juice or punch as soda bottles can handle much more pressure.  When you’re done with the setup there will be quite a bit of pressure held in these bottles.

I’ll be referring to the DIY CO2 Generator in terms of left and right.  Looking directly at the unit, the side with the pressure gauge will be the left, the needle valve on the right.

After you’ve enjoyed your beverage of choice, rinse the bottles out well.  It doesn’t have to be perfect as only the gas is going into your fish tank, not the liquid (unless something VERY bad happens.)

Begin by closing the needle valve on the right side.  Don’t go all crazy tightening it, or it’ll be a pain to loosen when the time comes.

Start with the citric acid bottle (the one on the left). You’ll want to keep these straight, I labelled each one with a Sharpie. Get out your trusty funnel and add 7 oz (200g) of citric acid powder. Then add about 20oz of water to the bottle.

A note about citric acid: you can find this stuff in the canning section of your grocery or discount store. It’s typically used in canning tomatoes.  It’s also pretty expensive in that form.  My store has 5oz bottles for about 4 dollars.  A much better alternative is to hit up eBay.  I bought a 5lb bag of the stuff for less than $15.

Setting-up-citric-acid-baking-soda-co2At this point, shake up the bottle and screw the bottle into the left side of the generator, under the pressure gauge. Then fill the baking soda bottle with 7oz of baking soda and about 7oz of water. Shake and attach that one to the CO2 unit on the valve side.

Now the magic begins.  Squeeze the citric acid bottle firmly until you can’t squeeze any longer. Unless you’re the Hulk or something, don’t break the bottle.

When you release the bottle, citric acid solution will siphon into the baking soda side.  If you remember your school science fair, this is the same thing that happens when you make the volcano with vinegar and baking soda.

Next, open the needle valve wide open for about 5 seconds and then close it again.  Then repeat the squeeze and valve open again.

The idea behind this is that the pressure differences in the two bottles will cause the citric acid to siphon into the baking soda bottle until an equilibrium is achieved. Once that happens, the system will siphon citric acid as needed when the pressure drops.

You want to continue this process until the gauge reads around 2kg of pressure.  This can sometimes can take some patience.

If you’re like me and not patient, after you do the valve thing a time or two, give up in frustration and give the assembly a gentle shake.  This tends to speed up the reaction and builds pressure more quickly.

Don’t shake too hard, the system is setup with a pressure release valve that will open up if too much pressure builds up. That’s great for safety, but it kind of wastes your CO2.

Don’t sweat the pressure too much.  Once you get the system up to around 1kg of pressure, it’ll pretty much get to the right level in use.

Once you have the reaction going, hook the needle valve up to your air hose (use silicone or specially designed CO2 hose).  Hopefully you remembered to buy an air tube and some kind of CO2 diffuser or reactor when you ordered this thing. I’ll put a list of stuff to get for the full CO2 setup at the end of this article.

Hook all that stuff up and then open up the valve to get the CO2 goodness flowing.  I tend to open it up a little wide at first to clear the tubing and then dial it back down to the desired bubbles per second in the bubble counter.

CO2 Generator in Action

Ok, so once everything was dialed in and hooked up I ran through a couple of cycles to get a feel for everything.  Unlike yeast-based CO2 DIY setups, there’s no problems with pressure.  While it might not pack as much pressure as a proper pressurized CO2 setup, there’s more than enough force to make a nice stream of micro bubbles from a standard glass diffuser.

citric-acid-baking-soda-diy-co2-generator-in-useConsistency on the other hand is a little bit different.  I found that during the course of the day the flow of CO2 would decrease, requiring me to open the valve a little further in the evenings.  To be honest, I’m not sure if this is a flaw in the needle valve or in the CO2 generation process itself.

According the the manufacturer, using the system 8 hours per day, you can get over a month of use running at 1 bubble per second (bps). A rate of 3bps is only good for about 20 days.  My photo period is longer than 8 hours, so I tended to get a little under two weeks at 2-3bps.  That’s where the eBay citric acid comes in handy.

Basically, in my opinion, this system sits between a yeast-based DIY system and a proper pressurized CO2 system.  Performance is much more consistent than yeast, and more importantly, the output is controllable.  You also don’t need to wait a day or so for the CO2 to build up in this system since it’s a chemical and not a biological reaction.

Yeast systems may last longer between charges, but they’re just kind of hit and miss.  Of course a CO2 tank system is very consistent and lasts for months depending on your tank size.  Those systems also cost a whole lot more than this setup.

Ultimately, if you want decent performance and aren’t quite ready to commit to a dedicated pressurized CO2 system, using a citric acid and baking soda CO2 system is a very good compromise.

As promised, here’s a list of gear you want to pick up to have a fully functioning DIY citric acid and baking soda CO2 system. All items are from BangGood because they’re inexpensive and you can get everything in the same place. There’s other options too, so look around.

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10 Gallon Aquascape Build With $7 Worth of Home Depot Material

I recently completed a fun project.  I took my old, unused 10 gallon aquarium and built a volcano themed aquascape using about seven dollars worth of materials from Home Depot. Here’s how I did it.

tiki hut volcano 10 gallon
Hut not included


I had an existing empty 10 gallon Marineland aquarium setup from Petsmart that I tore down after establishing my main 60 gallon planted tank.

I had some issues with some of the occupants of the main tank not playing well with others, so I decided I would relocate them to the 10 gallon aquarium.  I still had everything, but the old setup was ugly with blue gravel and plastic plants.

I decided on redoing everything and decided on the following:

  • Sand substrate
  • Some kind of rock formation
  • Hide all equipment
  • Add some low light plants from main tank
  • Be extremely cheap
  • All materials must be aquarium safe

Here’s a little secret for you: Home Depot is an awesome source for stuff you pay way more for at pet stores.  You can get rocks, gravel, sand and assorted other things in the landscaping section for a fraction of what pet shops charge.

I headed off to my local Home Depot and picked up a bag of playground sand and a bag of lava rock, both were under $4 each and contained way more stuff than I’d need for my aquascape. I then set off to work.

The following pictures chronicle my adventure

1. Plan Layout


The first thing I did was figure out how I wanted the basic design of the rockwork to go.  I measured an area and marked it with tape so I didn’t scratch the aqarium up while I figured out what to do.

I used a bag of red lava rock, it’s on sale currently for $3.48 for a .5 cubic foot bag, which is about 22 pounds. Way more than enough for a 10 gallon tank. Also, be sure to rinse your rock before you use it, it’s messy.

2. Add Play Sand

10-gallon-aquascape-cheap-sand-bed1-300x168Next up, it’s time to put in the first layer of sand.  It’s important to lay down the sand bed before adding any rocks, this will protect the glass in the tank from scratches, or worse.

Here I used regular ol’ play sand like you can get for sandboxes.  It looks brown but when it’s underwater the color lightens up quite a bit.  You can get a 50 pound bag of the stuff for about $3.00 (around 1/10th the cost of “aquarium” sand). Pool filter sand which is white, or black blasting sand are also popular choices.

3. Build rock foundation


Now it’s time to start laying out the lava rock in the pattern from earlier.  I reccommend filling the base completely, even the spots that will be hollow for equipment.  This forms a more stable base to mount your rows on as you go.

I didn’t glue the individual rocks together in this first row, but that might add stability.

4. Hot glue additional rows of rock

10-gallon-aquascape-more-rowsNow, time for the fun to begin.  You’ll be building this sort of like a brick wall where you’ll be gluing a rock on top of the two rocks below. In other words, the center of the upper rock should be over the space where two rocks meet in the row below.  I also like to add glue in between the rocks for extra hold.

I actually used this project as an excuse to buy a fancy new dual temperature hot glue gun, which you can find on Amazon for about $13 Stanley Bostitch Glueshott Dual Melt High/Low Temperature Glue Gun (GR25).  I assume you have a hot glue gun, so it’s not included in the price of the build.  Note that you can also use epoxy putty to bind the rocks together, but I found the process to take too long.

And yes, both epoxy and hot glue are aquarium safe.

5. Keep building up your rows

10-gallon-aquascape-volcano-progressAs you can see in the picture, you’re going to have gaps.  Don’t sweat it too much now.  You can either glue small rocks to cover the holes when you’re finished, or if you want to add plants, you can attach them to the holes to grow over the gaps (Java ferns and moss work well for that).

The holes also help with circulation since I’ll be housing the filter intake behind the volcano.  Now would also be a good time to dry fit your equipment to make sure there’s enough clearance where needed.

6. Admire your work, add more sand


A couple of notes. I found I needed to use a whole lot of hot glue to get the porous lava rock to hold itself together.  That also meant there were a lot of glue blobs visible.  You can cover some of those with smaller rocks and/or plants if you choose, or just let nature handle it.  Stuff like algae will build up on that glue as the tank ages making the blobs harder to see.

At this point go ahead and add more sand to finish out the aquascape as you want.  I used the rocks to build a couple of tiers to have different levels of sand.  Also, for a more natural look add some groups of loose rocks.

7. Add equipment

10-gallon-cheap-aquascape-home-depot-hidden-heaterNow would be a good time to place your equipment and add any final touches.  you might notice the background is black in the above image.  You can spray paint the back of your tank (if you think of it before you start building).  Or, you can use the trash bag trick.

10-gallon-aquascape-trash-bag-backgroundCut a black trash bag to size and just tape it on the back.  If you want to get fancy, you can instead spread a thin film of Vaseline on the back glass, apply the trash bag and then smooth it out with with a credit card.  Since there’s a nice rock wall in the tank, the simple black background won’t get much attention.

8. Just add water

10-gallon-cheap-aquascape-fillingNow comes the fun part, fill that sucker up!  I used a small shallow plastic container into which I poured the water from a pitcher.  This minimizes the amount of sand that gets kicked up.  Once the water level got above the container’s top, I put a rock in there to keep it in place and continued to fill.

9. …and Wait

10-gallon-aquascape-cloudyYeah, sand is a little messy.  That picture above is after a day of letting things settle.  Originally you couldn’t see anything in there.

Resist the urge to run your filter right away, sand will destroy the impeller.  I actually cheated a little, I wrapped some sponge around the filter intake to prefilter the sand, so I got the tank to clear up in a few hours after starting the filter.

10. Add Livestock

shrimp-10-gal-by-rockFinally, after the water clears and you’ve cycled the tank (you did cycle it, right?) it’s time to add critters.  Mine became home to the small school of zebra danios that were terrorizing the other fish.  I also added a few ghost shrimp to keep the sand neat.

Thanks for sharing my journey with me, and I know that it might cost you more than 7 bucks if you don’t already have an aquarium laying around. But, if you don’t this is just the site you need to help  you find great deals on aquariums and other stuff 🙂